-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children who
experience the death of a family member are at slightly increased
risk for psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia later in life, a
large new study reveals.
The risk is highest among children who had a sibling or parent
commit suicide, according to the findings published Jan. 21 in the
online edition of the
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 947,000 children born in
Sweden between 1973 and 1985. Of those children, 33 percent
experienced the death of a family member before they reached age
13. More than 11,000 children were exposed to death from suicide,
more than 15,000 to death from accidents and more than 280,000 to
death from natural causes.
Among those who experienced the death of a family member as a
child, 0.4 percent developed a non-affective psychosis (not related
to emotions or mood) such as schizophrenia. In addition, 0.17
percent developed a so-called affective psychosis, such as bipolar
disorder with psychosis and depression with psychosis, according to
Overall, there was an increased risk of psychosis among people
who suffered a death in the family during childhood and the risk
increased the earlier in childhood the death occurred, the news
release said. The greatest risk was seen in those who experienced
the death of a family member when they were aged newborn to 3 years
The researchers said the increase was small but
In terms of type of death, the risk of psychosis was highest
among those exposed to suicide in the immediate family, followed by
those exposed to death from accidents, and then those exposed to
deaths from natural causes.
"Our research shows childhood exposure to death of a parent or sibling is associated with excess risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life," Kathryn Abel, a professor from the Center for Women's Mental Health at the University of Manchester, in England, said in the news release.
"This is particularly associated with early childhood exposure," Abel said. "Further investigation is now required and future studies should consider the broader contexts of parental suicide and parental loss in non-Western, ethnically diverse populations."
While the study found a slight increase in the risk of
developing a psychotic illness among children exposed to death of a
family member, it did not prove a cause-and-effect
The U.S. National Institutes of Health explains how to
talk to children about death.
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